Professor Stephen Powis, Medical Director for NHS England is urging social media companies to ban “irresponsible and unsafe” endorsements for health products by celebrities
It doesn’t take much digging to find a celebrity or influencer promoting some form of health product on social media, from detox teas and diet pills, to appetite-suppressing lollipops. In fact, it’s likely you’ll see some just from entering the Instagram 'Explore' page.
But Professor Stephen Powis, Medical Director for NHS England has decided enough is enough. He wants social media companies, such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, to stop allowing ads in which celebrities are paid to promote such products.
“Highly influential celebrities are letting down the very people who look up to them by peddling products which are at best ineffective and at worst harmful,” he said. “Social media firms have a duty to stamp out the practice of individuals and companies using their platforms to target young people with products known to risk ill health.”
NHS chiefs are concerned these celebrity endorsements will cause many of their followers to purchase these diet products, which despite claiming to improve health, actually pose a risk to both their physical and mental wellbeing.
Weight-loss supplements, for example, often contain ingredients that risk irritating the stomach, cause diarrhoea and impact the effectiveness of contraception. They also offer the false hope that someone who is unhappy with their appearance will be able to change how they look by simply drinking a tea or suppressing their appetite.
Powis’ intervention comes as pressure grows on social media firms to be more responsible about deciding what content to allow on the platforms.
On Thursday, the Science and Technology Committee suggested that social media companies should have a legal duty of care imposed on them. While the report highlighted the potential benefits of social media, it also highlighted the risks, and the lack of guidance available for parents concerned about their children’s Internet use and safety.
“If a product sounds like it is too good to be true, then it probably is. The risks of quick-fix weight loss far outweigh the benefits, and advertising these products without a health warning is damaging and misleading,” said Powis.
“Promoting potentially damaging products with no clinical advice or health warning can be really detrimental to someone’s physical and mental health.
“With pressure on young people to live up to idealised images greater than they have ever been, it’s too often families and the health service who are left to pick up the pieces.”
Powis demands social media platforms to remove posts that advertise potentially harmful products, as well as banning all future promotion.
The Royal Society for Public Health accuse both the social media firms and the celebrities endorsing the products of putting profits before the health and wellbeing of the consumer.
“There are so many bogus and snake oil weight loss products on the market today, which either have dubious evidence to back them up or are a waste of money,” said Duncan Stephenson, Director of External Affairs at RSPH.
“It is shameful that major advertisers, leading celebrities - many of who are role models for young people - together with advertisers and social media platforms are complicit in exploiting and potentially putting people’s health at risk, simply to further line their pockets.”
Kitty Wallace, a trustee of the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation, said: “The bombardment of idealised body images is fuelling a mental health and anxiety epidemic in young people. If celebrities will not step up to protect their young fans, then companies such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter should be compelled to take down these damaging posts.”
If you’re struggling with the impact of social media on your mental health, you may benefit from an app clean-up. Yumna Sami shares her top 5 tips to make your phone more mental health friendly. You can also learn how to take care of yourself online.
If you are looking to change your lifestyle through diet, a qualified professional is recommended. They can provide safe, tailored advice to help you make the changes you want to make in a healthy way. Search over 500 professionals in the UK on Nutritionist Resource.
Finally, if you need support for your mental health, you may benefit from speaking to a professional. Enter your location in the box below to find a counsellor near you.